Monday, March 28, 2011


A soft snow fell, silent and steady, the day she arrived. Lady luck had pulled off a last minute shuffle. The stork was to fly in a day earlier. But in a tragic cantonment shootout in 1990 on the eve of 26th Jan, four personnel had lost their lives and every available hand in the Srinagar Military Hospital was on deck, tending to the wounded. A decision had been taken to let Aqseer wait for another day.

It was the night of India’s Republic Day. Her mother sat alone on her metal post hospital bed in the huge, green curtained and curiously still maternity ward, a brisk breeze outside. She wore two plaits and gazed up at the lofty ceilings, a sudden hush in the wake of an excited and anxious family, departing for the day. There was the scratchy hospital gown, warm eiderdown, baby’s generous valise on the nightstand and some fleeting thoughts. What will it be? She made an entry in her diary, “Dear God, let this be a healthy baby.”

The last memory of the mother was a spacious, well lit Operation
Theatre and Lt Col Sivaram looking down from behind the mask, rubbing the stethoscope on his palm before connecting with the baby’s heartbeat. At 11:08 am that day, Baby Aqseer Sodhi put an end to months of preparation and anticipation. She and her mother had driven into the surgical block as one; early that morning and now they were trundling out in the ambulance as two separate, tightly wrapped and slightly somnambulistic bundles.

Aqseer did not know it then but she had a Karmic connection with Srinagar. Her father had flown several sorties over the saffron sprinkled valley. That floral elf land had also seen some pounding from her parents, astride the black Yezdi ”ABU”, roaring all over Sonmarg and Awantipore in cold hard rain. And now, as she entered the cosy Bukhari room, her tiny hands undulating gracefully in the biting air, there was the grandfather gleefully handing out sweets, her grandmother frozen on an unusual chatter channel and the brand new father hopping from one foot to the other, barely able to contain his concern.

Of course, it was not until several years later that Aqseer would hear of how her Dad had railed, bussed, flown, jeeped and walked to be in Srinagar when needed.

Aqseer’s first Indian Airlines flight was at the ripe age of 22 days. More or less, she has been aloft since.

I do not know of any other baby who had as large a stock of hair tacks as Aqseer and only five strands to show them off on. From the easy cocoon of her grandparental home, it was a dive headlong into the breathless life of an Air Force squadron, bent upon living it up. There was nary a murmur from this minnow though; she soaked in the squadron revelries from her horizontal vantage point on a makeshift davenport, ears plugged with cotton, a good knight mat in lazy vapour some way off. Little wonder, come to think of it, that Aqseer’s constant and unchanging lullaby remained Rod Stewart’s,”Some guys have all the luck”. For months together, while her father flew out his night syllabus overhead, this mother daughter pair would dance their forty winks in, Rod Stewart for urging.

Aqseer hated coming home from the dance and music affairs. She would catch her nap on the short way back from the Mess and erupt into a furious bellow just as the bike made to turn into the driveway. There would be a prompt and hurried roaring off by a startled father, mother making a grab for the protesting bundle.

There was also a shade of what might have been genetic food insecurity! Aqseer preferred her snacks in twos, one for the venue, one to go home and consume. There was a compulsive need to have everyone notice and acknowledge her sartorial novelty, ‘Nu nu, nu nu...” she would go, holding out every single layer she wore, from the ceremonial to the most basic. Partial to chatting up Aunties, Aqseer regularly launched into these drawn and involved babbles, a string of emotionally modulated syllables directed at bemused adults  from the safety of her mother’s lap.

Aqseer liked her chicken on stick and had the loveliest baby profile ever. When her sister was getting ready for her arrival on the world’s stage, Aqseer would want to share everything with her from the outside. Any object with the tag baby would set her off, “Johnson baby soap baby ko lagao...”

Oh yes, Aqseer has come a long way since her favourite book, “Kaju and the Shoe”. Despite having endured the ordeal of being the first born, with parents who read too much Benjamin Spock, Aqseer has evolved into this beautiful young lady living her life in a challenging, competitive and chaotic world full of other young people like her, trying to carve their places in the sun.

Her parents watch her evolution from a distance, with a pride mixed with concern. Astride her red Pulsar, in black jacket and aviators, Aqseer is on her way.

Everything of significance owned by Aqseer has received a christening. There is Mango, Tangerine, Juno and more. A feminist at heart and by the power of pen, she loves Delhi, friends, a well cooked plate of mutton and curd with some whey please!

Today when she drives off in her Yellow Zen while in Delhi, sporting her black and white trademark gear, laptop over the shoulder and snack basket in hand, on way to intern with one truly remarkable Supreme Court Lawyer, very much the litigator in making, her mother sees instead the excited, tripping, scurrying toddler in her candy striped pyjamas.

That gal in the chrome wheels, hurtling down myriad flyovers, head nodding in sync with the little white daisy on the dashboard is Aqseer.

Tic, tic, tic, tic.

Our daughter Aqseer.

PS: This mother chickened out during Aqseer’s first bout in the Boxing Ring. She dropped her off and raced home to google, ”Boxing: how dangerous a sport?!”


Shashi Nayagam said...

I can see how proud you are of her. You have created a wonderful individual.Wishing her all the best in future endeavours.

Kartik said...

I love your blog!

Wonderful stories of Aqseer here. I did not know the circumstances surrounding her birth.

Sweet memories came up for me, too. Of little Aqseer running around at the place in Adampur.

She's come a long way, indeed.

Kartik said...

PS - Hilarious moments here - the Johnson Baby Soap, and of course you googling boxing.

Tell me - who, or should I say what, are Mango, Tangerine and Juno? My curiosity is piqued.

Honey Sangha said...

Mango is her Yellow colored Zen car.

Tangerine is the little nodding daisy on the car dashboard.

Juno is her Pulsar bike.

I am sure she has a name for the SLR as well, not knowing yet....

Ayush said...

It's Zoom aunty (the camera i.e.), beautiful beautiful post is all I can say.

Honey Sangha said...

I am new to this Ayush and think I responded at "no reply" to your comment. Thank you for reading.